Well, it’s been a couple of months since I did an Amazon Prime Roulette article. The first entry in this series, a review of the Swedish film Draug (2018), was not exactly a smashing success, largely because I had no idea what was going on in that one. But today, I’m giving myself a chance at redemption and reviewing another obscure horror film on Amazon Prime. Will this one turn out better than Draug? Let’s find out.
The movie: Death Blood 4 (2019, Sunol Group Media)
Creative principals: Written and directed by Chris DePretis. Starring Tess DePretis, Shawn Amaro, Zach Beckman, and Len LoFrisco. You’ve never heard of them. I’ve never heard of them. Let’s move on.
“Cindy Shane must team up with a space alien, a pizza boy, a comic store clerk, and a talking TV set in order to defeat an evil police chief, his human-controlling nano-robots, and the legendary big foot in the “fourth” installment of the fictitious Death Blood franchise.“
Promising user review: A user named Haley gives the film five stars and declares it a “good movie to watch with a pizza and some beer.”
Not-so-promising user review: Another customer gives the film five stars and deems it “so much fun,” but this is the aforementioned Zach Beckman, who also acts in the film. So, yeah, maybe he’s a tad biased.
My experience: Folks, there has been an under-reported miracle in the world of low-budget filmmaking. For many decades, unless there were some world-class talent behind the scenes, cheap horror movies usually looked awful — grainy, dark, out of focus, and just all around tough on the eyes. Outdoor night scenes were particularly unwatchable. But today, technology has advanced to the point that any halfway competent director can produce a movie that at least looks legitimate. With filmmakers freed from the technical limitations of the past, the challenge now is to give us stories that inflame our imaginations and characters that engage our emotions.
This, I’m afraid, is where Death Blood 4 falls down just a bit. The film’s full name is Death Blood 4: Revenge of the Killer Nano-Robotic Blood Virus. That wacky subtitle is your first clue that this is going to be one of those sly, self-aware genre parody deals that are almost impossible to pull off. Your second clue is that the movie begins with faux Grindhouse-style trailers for the other three (nonexistent) Death Blood movies. I braced myself for some obnoxious, over-the-top wackiness.
That’s not what I should have been worried about. As it turns out, Death Blood 4 is extremely sluggish and low-energy. (I briefly wondered if I were seeing the movie at 0.75x speed by accident.) The script is modest and talky, so much so that the gleefully excessive title almost seems like false advertising. Death Blood 4 has both blood and death, but neither to an excessive amount.
The actors tend to say their lines in a calm monotone, as if they don’t want to upset the neighbors with any undue noise. A film featuring aliens, Bigfoot, and a blood-borne rage virus — and this script has all those elements, plus a few more swiped directly from The Terminator (1984) — should seem crazily overstuffed. Instead, Death Blood 4 is a weirdly hollow experience. It’s a party that never gets started.
Our main character is Cindi Shane (Tess DePretis), a video store clerk whose ponytail and glasses let you know that she’s the sensible, relatable good girl every horror movie needs. Apparently, Cindi’s mom Sara (Stephanie Scribner) disappeared years ago to defend an alien race in some faraway world. And Cindi is the chosen one who will defend us humans from the dreaded “nano-robotic blood virus.” She’s assisted by JB (Zach Beckman), a friendly alien who has taken human form and speaks with a sort of Balki-meets-Borat accent.
Cindi’s quasi-love interest Shawn (Shawn Amaro) is a nerdy pizza boy whose mean boss Scary Larry (Ilya Leshinsky) becomes infected with the alien virus and turns into an Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque killing machine. And Bigfoot (Morgan Finley King, looking more like a hippie with dreadlocks) is just kind of a jerk. Oh, and there’s a pot-bellied police chief (Len LoFrisco) who may not be all that he seems.
These characters talk and talk and talk about the plot, except for Scary Larry who doesn’t say much of anything and Bigfoot who growls. The central conceit of Death Blood 4 is that it’s the fourth film in a franchise, so I guess the mythology has gotten a little out of hand by this point. But, based on my experience with real film franchises, sequels tend to give viewers what they liked from previous installments, only ramped up.
A film called Death Blood 4 should be an extreme example of that, with something completely ridiculous or outrageous happening every few minutes. Instead, we get the director’s acquaintances shuffling around onscreen in a tentative way, waiting politely for their turn to speak. I’d say the most compelling character is G7 (voiced by Josh Burger), a talking robot fashioned from an old TV/DVD player combo. G7 doesn’t really do much that’s memorable, but I liked the way his little mouth flapped up and down when he spoke.
I’d advise Chris DePretis, before he makes his next feature-length movie, to spend a good long time watching Adult Swim, especially any series involving Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Some deadpan absurdist Tim & Eric-style humor is exactly what Death Blood 4 needed. Plus more blood. C’mon, man. Don’t be so stingy with that stuff! In a film like this, there should be great geysers of it!
Would I recommend this movie: It depends. Are you related to someone in the cast and crew? Are you in the cast and crew? If you answered yes to either or both of those questions, then maybe this movie could be something to play at a party years from now so you remember how young you all were.
Is it better than Draug: For the remainder of this series, I’m going to use Draug as the yardstick. In this case, no, Death Blood 4 is not better than Draug. For one thing, Draug is nearly ten minutes shorter. That’s another lesson for DePretis and crew — if you can’t be good, be brief.
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